Investigations of sexual abuse of children will soon be conducted more quickly, accurately and thoroughly, thanks to legislation signed into law Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The genesis of Senate Bill 5461, sponsored by Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), originated in Clark County with the goal of better protecting children and holding their abusers accountable.
“The sexual abuse of any child is horrific and unacceptable. We must do everything we can as a society to protect children by making sure any allegations are investigated promptly and to the best of our combined resources,” said Cleveland, who chairs the Senate Health Committee. “This legislation will make sure a report of sexual abuse of a child is investigated swiftly and as effectively as possible.”
Until now, investigations have been burdened by a lack of clarity on protocols for communications between various individuals and agencies with pertinent information. SB 5461 establishes formal guidelines for coordination between local law enforcement, the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, state agencies and advocacy groups, and licensed physical and mental health practitioners who work with child victims of sex abuse.
Together, these parties constitute a multidisciplinary child protection team, with the confidentiality of information shared among the team protected under law. Existing civil and criminal penalties apply to any inappropriate disclosure of the information.
Cleveland said the idea for the legislation came from the Arthur D. Curtis Children’s Justice Center in Clark County.
“We are fortunate in my district to have a long-time Children’s Justice Center that has been providing a safe, child-focused place for alleged child victims of abuse to seek support for over 20 years,” Cleveland said. “They identified a barrier to their work that required legislative action.
“Their suggestions for coordinating county resources should make a dramatic difference, not just in Clark County but other counties as well. This is going to improve investigations and help reduce trauma for children in communities across our state.”
The law applies to investigations of online sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of minors, child fatalities, child physical abuse, and criminal child neglect, with each county required to develop written protocols.